I’ve been working in the world of learning & development for many years and the phrase “ the pace of change is faster than ever before” has been said for as long as I can remember. However, I do believe it’s true to say that we’re now living at a time when there are huge challenges (and opportunities) in the way in which we do business to ensure that business is contributing to a sustainable world. With an increasing squeeze on natural resources, population growth and the implications of climate change most of us know in our hearts (even if we’re still fighting it in our heads) that we need to change our way operating. To do this, I believe, we need leaders who are not just aware of such issues but tuned into them on both a rational and emotional level; leaders who are inspired to lead organizations that are not just great places to work and economically sustainable but also have a positive impact on the world.
What does this mean for leadership development? I think it’s time for an overhaul of traditional leadership development that focuses primarily on developing leadership capability within an organization to developing leadership development for a sustainable world. If we’re using the term ‘leadership development’ then surely it’s no longer acceptable to ignore the development required to help leaders position their organization as a ‘force for good’ in the world. Anything else is just developing a part not the whole.
I have been involved with leadership development where I’ve witnessed those ‘aha’ moments amongst participants when they’ve suddenly grasped the impact that their business has on the wider world. I’ve also witnessed moments where they’ve had a realization but have no idea what to do about it. For maximum impact, embedding sustainability into leadership development therefore has to be done in a way that is both meaningful and relevant. Real connection with the issues can’t be achieved in a classroom or through Powerpoint. We need to create powerful experiential activities where leaders are immersed in the issues, topics, dilemmas and multiple perspectives that exist in real life; activities where, through a process of enquiry, they’re able to see situations with new eyes and gain insights into new ways of working. However, this in itself is not enough. As we know, the most committed leaders can find themselves reverting to old patterns of behavior and thinking once back at their desk and dealing with the day-to-day challenges of their role. The development programmes of the future, therefore, have to have immediate relevance to the real world of the participants and provide support for leaders so they are both inspired to make a positive difference in their organization and also empowered to take action.